Pentatonix' Daft Punk Video: Low Budget Meets Awesome Creativity

If you are one of the five people on the internet who have not yet seen the new video of Pentatonix covering Daft Punk this week, you're in for a treat.

And as cool as it is, dig a little deeper and it gets way better. This video is one percent budget and 99 percent pure talent and creativity — the latter of which will trump budget and scale every time.

Meet Pentatonix

Pentatonix is an a cappella group out of Arlington, Texas. Already fast-rising, they pretty much went nuclear on Tuesday with the release of their second album and this Daft Punk medley video:

The original core of the young group was Scott Hoying, Kirstie Maldonado and Mitch Grassi, who were long-time friends in High School (class of 2010 and 2011). They added the positively acrobatic vocal bass of Avi Kaplan and beat boxer Kevin Olusola (who's really a cellist, albeit a beat-boxing cellist) and the band was complete.

They won the 2011 season of NBC's Sing-Off1 and were quickly off to the races.

Enter FifGen Films

FifGen Films is a young, bootstrapping boutique film company out of Oregon. They were founded by Jimmy Bates and Reilly Zamber, both of whom are just 24. They have recently increased the head count by 50% with the addition of McKenzie Yoeman. They roll with a 5D's (a 'II and a 'III) and a GoPro Hero3. And you definitely should take a moment to watch their (autoplay, heads-up) show reel at

FifGen's has shot five videos for Pentatonix, one of which is as-yet unreleased. Fun fact: their first RTX video was done ad hoc on one day's notice on a mutual day off.

FifGen had put in some serious shooting and post production time over the last couple of years working with (one-man) a cappella group Peter Hollens. They had developed a synched, multi-window style over a series of more than 40 videos shot for him.

"We've had hundreds and hundred of hours of that basic studio/built-up look with Peter," Bates said, and he wanted to do something totally different but within that genre for Pentatonix' Daft Punk. So he pitched the idea of a multi-frame video, but they were a little hesitant at first to do something so strongly associated with other a cappella groups.

"Let's just do some crazy makeup and have you guys look like fricken' aliens, basically, and have you guys do some Daft Punk-esque craziness on that," he suggested. And they went for it.

How to Hit a Curve

"We originally had a different plan for the video, but at the last minute our location fell through," Bates said.

So at last minute they did something that has become the trademark for the young indie film house. They called an audible. They decided to shoot the video indoors, essentially in a black phone booth.

"We've gotten used to that. We are a pretty young company. All of us are young in age and experience," said Bates.

"We're pretty used to the whole smash and grab style," he said. "We use the resources we hav… well, we don't really have any resources. We're always trying to invent ways to do cool new things."

"We went out an bought black sheets and hung them in the room and covered the ceiling.," Bates said. "We made a 'black box' that was about 20 square feet — if that. And we shot that entire video in that little space in one of their apartments."

For those of you wincing, don't. This is not necessarily a terrible thing, and speaks to a great point: severe restriction may be the absolute best spark for creativity.

When the walls are in close — literally, in this case — the natural reaction is to push against them. Hard.

Light as a Vehicle

With such limited physical space to work with, Bates decided the lighting would be the only thing that distinguished each section.

So he set out to develop his lighting palette, and settled on a series of different looks: Warm tones with some smoke, a ring look with cool tones, clean on black, black light, and finally, using an 18-inch ring as a background element.

The main light, a $250 Stellar CFL ring light, was used both as a key and an in-frame background. (Note: I use one, and it is a legit still photo light as well as an excellent video light. For $250 you get two bulbs and it has a built-in dimmer, albeit of limited range.)

Bates then latched onto the new iOS 7-ish "foggy glass" layer/overlay as a border style template for the multi-window presentation.

The result: Something that would look right at home on the set of Tron or Star Wars — but was shot on a Home Depot budget. Insane.

Made for YouTube

FifGen tends to work with a lot of YouTubers, which lends itself less to storyline and more towards straight performance videos.

"We've gotten used to basically having to sell every sound that you are hearing," Bates said. "I love doing rhythmic edits."

All three people at FifGen had musical backgrounds, singing in choir in college. They started doing short videos at that time and the results started getting noticed. With Bates' major in New Media Communications and Biz major Zamber's focus on entrepreneurship, all of the ingredients were in place.

"Musically, I like to do things on the video side to add a visual that represents and complements the music," Bates said. "A lot of that is improvisation magic in post. We call it 'The Audible.' We go in with a plan and end up coming out with something that is ten times better."

Even as young filmmakers, the FifGen crew are already learning to trust their instincts and to realize that they not only can hit a curve ball, but can frequently knock one out of the park.

"A perfect example is this video. We pulled the audible and came up with the concept on the same day we were shooting," he said. "We were literally in the car going to pick up last-minute supplies and we got the blue makeup and the little glowing things on their faces — the kind of little things that can spice up a video."

The result is a smash visual hit that amplifies a musical tour de force, drawing millions of YouTube views each day since its release on Tuesday.

Many people would be scared by the seemingly random way in which the video came together. But not the FifGen folks.

"We're definitely planning on working more with Pentatonix. We love these indie-style productions where we can call an audible."

Ultimately, FifGen Films wants to do movies. But the next step, they believe, will be to do some bigger production videos first. And given what they just served up, I doubt it will be very long before someone offers them that opportunity.


And yes, I know this is out of niche with only a little crossover into lighting. And continuous lighting at that. But the lessons and inspiration to be gleaned from this are absolutely relevant to photographers. Especially those of you on limited budgets.

You can't help but pull for these guys — and by "these guys," I mean both Pentatonix and FifGen FIlms. And as cool as the video is, perhaps the thing I like best about it is Pentatonix' now traditional "Haaaay!" segment in which they directly address their viewers. How fourth-wall is that? Love it.

Just something a little different today, hopefully to inspire you even a tenth as much as it did me. And if you had to watch the video more than once, fess up in the comments.


:: ::
:: :: (Pentatonix' website)
:: Purchase Song on iTunes ::

Photos via FifGen Films. Used with permission.


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Blogger Kim LeMoon said...

Awesome article!! I am even more blown away by the Daft Punk video now that I know how creative and impromptu the process was. So cute to see Kirstie in her blue wig and track shorts.

November 08, 2013 9:28 AM  
Blogger rpccube said...

Great talent!
Out of niche as you said, but is this interest in things video graphic indicative of where you are going with the new "Gig"?

November 08, 2013 10:02 AM  
Blogger dave moser said...

The crazy blue eyes? Done in post???

November 08, 2013 11:27 AM  
Blogger Mike Keller said...

Great video (the song drives me nuts, but that's OK). I love the "do it on the fly and cheap" technique, and the many lighting effects in one video. Did they have two of those Stellar ringlights in action, one as background and one as the frontlight, at 2:30? Was the Stellar also used as the warm soft light, maybe through an umbrella? Would be cool if they shot the entire video with only two lights. :)

November 08, 2013 11:32 AM  
Blogger David Hobby said...


Nope, contacts.

November 08, 2013 12:25 PM  
Blogger Jack and Brenda said...

How cool is this! We're going to see them live tomorrow night (Nov 9th) in Dayton, Ohio, before they leave for their European tour. The blonde (Scott Hoying) is a medium distant relative.

November 08, 2013 2:02 PM  
Blogger Wing Tang Wong said...

I must have been living under a rock, but I've never heard of PTX! I love their sound! Picked up their latest album on itunes.

The lighting and the close quarter shooting setup is inspiring as well. Just in time to do some family photos. :) No freezing the family out doors this year. :)

November 08, 2013 2:34 PM  
Blogger Eric said...

What a coincidence that you just posted this article. I just discovered them a few days ago. I was deconstructing the light after the third time watching.

I am still amazed that there are NO musical instruments making any of the sounds in their melody. Even the autotone is all voice.

November 08, 2013 4:26 PM  
Blogger matthew schiavello said...

I guess there is now one less perosn who hadn't heard of this group before. Their clip certainly looks more expensive that it was. Great piece to inspire all of us working on a tight (read: non-existent) budget!

November 08, 2013 5:22 PM  
Blogger Eric Vaughan said...

So everything you hear in the video is all done my voice? No musical instruments of any kind?

November 08, 2013 6:36 PM  
Blogger Dave E. said...

These kinds of restrictions are the thing I learned to enjoy as a recording engineer; with limited tracks on tape, you had to get very creative and resourceful with mic'ing, instrumentation, track-sharing, and arrangement.
This blog post isn't far off topic at all. It reminds me of your shoot posted a couple of weeks or so back, with the actress in NY (whose beauty caused me to start searching for defibrillators on eBay), where you made that reflector with foil and a hole for the lens, and used the golden hour to the max.

November 08, 2013 11:59 PM  
Blogger Wil said...

Eric: That's right -- it's all voice. My wife and I first saw them on NBC's "The Sing-Off" in 2011 and picked them as our favorites from their first appearance. I saw the video today and am happy to see they're still improving and trying new things.

November 10, 2013 6:58 PM  
Blogger @BlueDoors said...

Thanks Dave - productivity this afternoon disappeared after listening/watching this and then following the inevitable rabbit hole that is YouTube ;)

Great to see how creativity is sparked by limited resources

November 11, 2013 2:00 AM  
Blogger belfox said...

As usual a very instructive post. Thx a lot David.

And to me it's not out of niche at all. Using 1 ring light is enough to bring them in the "lighting" category, and they're using 2! To boot they're using a tungsten/incandescent bare bulb to light the background, gobo'ing it with wrinkled printing paper, creating the accent light on the singers, and using the color shift between the ring light and the incandescent (46" to 1'36")


There are the 2 rings, the tungsten for the background, and there's also the neon black light. So in all they used 4 lights. They also must have used a reflector off subject left (look around 26" for the reflection in the glasses)

November 12, 2013 7:34 AM  
Blogger Sarah said...

What brand? They are so mesmerizing & I need them in my life!

November 22, 2013 1:08 AM  
Blogger aledobroadband said...

Well, I guess it's safe to come out from under my rock now.

Never heard of these guys, and Arlington is right down the street from me. Heck - my daughter lives there and goes to UT Arlington.

I think I'll shock my daughter by mentioning that I know the group.

Oh, yeah - Pretty doggone impressive video for a Home Depot budget!

November 29, 2013 8:14 PM  
Blogger Steve Evans said...

I was searching Youtube for Daft Punk when I saw the PTX video.The whole package totally grabbed me and wouldn't let me go until the last note-and that is NOT usual for me!
Absolutely FIRST CLASS!

January 15, 2014 5:59 AM  
Blogger MeruWarrior said...

I've followed PTX since their Sing-Off debut. These kids are absolutely fantastic!

This video left me stunned and speechless. I have it on my phone and it is far and away my most played video. I can (and regularly do) have it on loop for several hours on end. The vocals are stupendous.

The visuals in the video are perfectly suited to the medley and their execution was utterly brilliant!

Inspirational stuff!

February 11, 2014 6:02 PM  

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